Tag Archives: jesus

the psalm 8 balance

One of my favourite Psalms is the eighth. I’m using it – very briefly – for a baptism sermon this Sunday, which will have absolutely no room to even begin to extol the kind of technical beauties this gem has.

First of all, there’s the structure.  Check this out:

A Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth,

B who has set your splendor above the heavens;

C from mouths of babes you ordained strength, to stop the foe & avenger.

D When I consider the works of your hands the stars you’ve ordained,

E what is man that you think of him, or a son of man that you visit him?

E You made him a little lower than angels & crowned him w/ glory & honour

D gave him dominion over the works of your hands & put all under his feet

C all sheep and oxen, yes the beasts of field

B birds of the heavens, fish of sea, all that swim in paths of sea

A Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!

That’s a bit of chiastic beauty right there.  The widest frame of God’s glory, and within that the contrasts of the heavenly and the earthly ‘works of your hands’; all leading up to and from the middle, the intersection of heaven and earth: humans. Someone once said that, when it comes to what we have capacity to measure, from the estimated ‘size’ of the known universe, to the ‘planck length’, humans are in the direct middle.  True or not, that’s a cool thought.

Like the two triangles in the star of David, this Psalm is about the profound tension of being human.  Long before any old or new atheist ever protested the idea of humans being the centre of the world, we have ‘the baffled king’ David, who is flabbergasted at the thought of God thinking about humans.  And yet.  How inspiring is the irony that humans alone (so far as we know!) have the combination of sapience and science to grasp and be grasped by their small size in relation to ‘the rest’?  Psalm 104, by the way, speaks of purpose in creation beyond the comfort of humans.  Rock badgers, the land, the trees, the sun and moon and others all benefit.  Had David known about bosons, black holes, quarks and dark energy, he’d have found a way to speak of their delight in the provision of the Creator.

Which leads to what I like to call the ‘Psalm 8 balance’.  If to be human is to be “under the creator, and over creation” (as I recall hearing N.T. Wright say), then (as  humans primarily sin when they either fail to live up to their calling of being ‘over’ the works of God’s hands, or when they fail to submit to being ‘a little lower than God. (My understanding is that ‘elohim’ here should, as elsewhere, be translated ‘God’, not ‘angels’)  As Mark Biddle writes in Missing the Mark (p. 75),

“Authentic human existence involves living in and for the image of God while fully aware that one comes from the dust.  When this polarity becomes imbalanced in either direction, one falls into sin.”

Or Bruggemann, on this Psalm, writes,

Human power is always bounded and surrounded by divine praise.  Doxology and dominion its context and legitimacy.

Apathy is the enemy of the wonder that simultaneously makes worship godly and makes our ‘dominion’ humane.  And that is tension indeed.

And finally, there’s the way this Psalm just patient sits and quietly asks to be picked up and used to speak about Christ. The one in whom heaven and earth met.  The ‘man from heaven’ Paul would say.  The one who dared utter the words ‘before Abraham was, I AM’.  The incomparable God-Man.  The Only Begotten son, called both the son of God and son of Man, who didn’t leave his glory ‘set’ above the heavens, or just to the Father and himself ‘before the world began’ (as in John’s gospel), but who took flesh and let that glory be seen.

jesus within the good samaritan parable?

I’m currently doing a research essay on how the parable of the Good Samaritan has been preached in different times and contexts.  Interpretation and preaching have traditionally centred on how the story presents three characters, one of who is the exemplary Samaritan.

But in the research, I’ve found that some rightly point out that the Innkeeper is a fourth.  Apparently innkeepers were known to at times over-charge, and so the greed of the innkeeper provides another contrast to the generosity of the Samaritan who offers to repay any expense the innkeeper incurs in caring for the man (whose nationality or race are – deliberately? – never revealed).

Now, I’m probably not the first to see yet another person in the story, and I’ll have to check the commentaries, but the following lines suggest it to me:

On the next day [most MSS include ‘when he departed’], he took out two denarii, and gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”

It is the phrase “when I come again” that tipped me off.  Was that a glimpse of the parousia just there tucked away?  I wonder it we glimpse Jesus himself in the person of the Samaritan; and by implication the church in the Innkeeper.  The ministry of the church is indeed (among other things) to welcome the lonely, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to visit the imprisoned.  Do we glimpse Jesus here, equipping the Church (giving of the Spirit?) to do their work, and promise a ‘repayment’ (reward according to deeds?) for how much extra they do?

the watering stone

It’s well known that the New Testament writers (re-)read their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) with Jesus-tinted-glasses.  Their world had been turned upside down after the events of the Gospel – particularly the Resurrection of Jesus, which they didn’t see coming – and when they returned to their familiar Scriptures, they saw Christ all over the place, both in the whole general trajectory, and in particular passages.  For example, how could one not see him in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 53?).  Christological readings of the Old Testament continued in the writings of the Early Church Fathers and on throughout Church History.

So, I was reading Genesis for a sermon on Jacob, and found verse 8 of chapter 29 to  jump out to me as being rich for New Testament reflection.  Jacob has arrived in the area of Laban, at the shepherd’s well, and upon asking them to water the sheep, they reply:

But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”

Anyone familiar with the New Testament will be able to see at least the three things I saw:

  1. The gathering of the flocks represents the gathering of the nations (or the elect) from the four winds (ends of the earth).
  2. I hope the NT meaning of rolling the stone away is self-explanatory!
  3. The watering of the sheep represents the ministry of Jesus through church leaders as those with the vocation of Peter feed Jesus’ lambs.

Now, eager to see if I was the first to spot this, I discovered this much fuller treatment of it by Gregory of Nyssa, in his “Sermon for the Day of Lights”:

Jacob also, hastening to seek a bride, met Rachel unexpectedly at the well. And a greatstone lay upon the well, which a multitude of shepherds were wont to roll away when they came together, and then gave water to themselves and to their flocks. But Jacob alone rolls away the stone, and waters the flocks of his spouse.

The thing is, I think, a dark saying, a shadow of what should come. For what is the stone that is laid but Christ Himself? for of Him Isaiah says, “And I will lay in the foundations of Sion a costly stone, precious, elect” and Daniel likewise, “A stone was cut out without hands” that is, Christ was born without a man. For as it is a new and marvellous thing that a stone should be cut out of the rock without a hewer or stone-cutting tools, so it is a thing beyond all wonder that an offspring should appear from an unwedded Virgin. There was lying, then, upon the well the spiritual stone, Christ, concealing in the deep and in mystery the layer of regeneration which needed much time—as it were a long rope—to bring it to light. And none rolled away the stone save Israel, who is mind seeing God. But he both draws up the water and gives drink to the sheep of Rachel; that is, he reveals the hidden mystery, and gives living water to the flock of the Church.

a different zion(ism)

Stephen Sizer is in NZ.  He preached this past Sunday at our church, and is doing a seminar called “7 Biblical Responses to Popular Zionist Assumptions” tomorrow night.  It’s been good revisiting the whole Zionism issue again, and refreshing my understanding of the issue.

The Zionists are concerned to demonstrate that God will not ‘forget his people Israel’, and that we should not either. For them, God’s faithfulness to Israel (including his modern day restoration of them back to their ancestral land) should be accompanied by our support of Israel – theologically, financially & politically.  My understanding, however, is that the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus exceeds and eclipses all (not some) aspects of the Old Covenant.  The types and shadows of Israelite religion (prophet, priest and king, law, land/’inheritance’ and temple) reach their climax and fulfillment in Jesus, who is the final Prophet, the High Priest, the King of kings; and in the Law of Christ (‘love’), the Inheritance of the entire Earth, and in Christ the new Temple.  In short: God keeps God’s promises in God’s way, and he has chosen to keep them in and through Christ.  God has been faithful to his own purposes for humanity (including Israel) and creation in and through his self-giving, self-donating, loving act in and through Christ.  Nothing more is needed for God to demonstrate his faithfulness.  Christ is enough.  As Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:20), “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.”

There is one response I want to address, and it is the complaint of ‘over-spiritualising’ God’s promises.  These people are unhappy with an understanding in which all of the tangible, here-and-now promises of God are ‘spiritualised away’.  Here, I’d want to point out that it is Christ and his people, the Church which fulfill the promises.  It’s just that the aspects (prophet, priest, etc.) are lower-case, post-Christ versions of their ultimate fulfillment in and through Him.  There are prophets in the Church, and we still have a priestly calling to the world, to bring his kingdom.  We are the ‘living stones’ of the new Temple.  And the law of Love is quite literally the most down-to-earth thing you could imagine, to be lived out in the entire earth.  Only in a radical dualistic framework would ‘spiritualising’ something make it less relevant for physical, ‘earthy’ things.

full gospel

Some presentations and presenters of Christianity are, in my view, overly obsessed with the Death of Jesus such that they over-emphasise it, and end up marginalising the Incarnation of Jesus, the Ministry of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Ascension of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit of Jesus.  It probably wouldn’t be fair to use any label for the flavour of Christianity I inherited in my early years as a Christian.  Whatever label is used, this version of Christianity is too prevalent.

In this version I inherited, the only reason Jesus was born was to die for our sins.  His ministry seemed like just some time-filling activity before he died.  The Resurrection is like icing on the cake after the ‘main event’, his Atoning death.  The Ascension is basically ignored altogether.  And the gift of the Spirit is basically about empowering people to tell others that Jesus died for their sins.  The New Testament, and the study and explanation of it over Church History, however, contains a Gospel that is much fuller than this version I inherited (and which most of our modern and quite a few of our older worship songs tend to focus on).

The Incarnation of Jesus is not a mere stepping stone to the Cross (though it is not less than that).  It is the Creator entering and uniting to the Creation in general, and human nature in particular.  This, the Eastern Orthodox rightly emphasise, is itself a saving act.  All creation participates in the salvation that Christ effects.

The Ministry of Jesus does not merely fill time until the Cross.  Jesus life and ministry is an enactment and fulfillment of genuine humanness.  Everything that humans were meant to be and do, which was focused in the call of Abraham and his people ‘Israel’, Jesus achieved and demonstrated in his life.  He finishes the race we could not.  This is a saving act.

The Resurrection of Jesus is not a mere happy ending to the Cross.  Whereas the Cross entails Jesus taking Death (and Evil and Sin) onto himself and extinguishing it, the bodily transformation and translation of Jesus, the Resurrection, enacts and achieves the defeat of Death (and Evil and Sin).  It also achieves a kind of ‘beachhead’ (or ‘first-fruits’) into New Creation, the ultimate destiny and intended goal for all Creation.  This is a saving act – for all creation – including humans.

The Ascension of Jesus is not an undoing of the Incarnation (which would be a huge heresy), where the Son of God strips off his humanity and reports back to the Father that the atoning death was accomplished (and thus the body no longer needed!).  It is about the enthronement of Jesus to the place of ultimate authority – which among other things, entails a denial of any other entities claiming such ultimate authority.  This is a saving act, saving us from false authorities.

The Giving of the Spirit of Jesus is not simply a bit of personal motivation to tell people about Jesus dying for us (though it is not less than that!).  It is the gift of the ongoing personal spiritual presence of Jesus, enabling us, correcting us, leading us, empowering us, shaping us to become more like Jesus.  It’s not just about ‘evangelism’ (or exciting private experiences), but about becoming more human – more like the true human, Jesus.  The Spirit of the true human, Jesus, makes us truly human.  This ‘humanisation’ (or ‘re-humanisation’) is a saving act; it’s what salvation is all about.

And that’s the “full gospel” that the New Testament communicates.


second verse by Cohen:

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

god with us

A million and one ‘both/and’ tensions result from what C.S. Lewis calls ‘the Grand Miracle’ which we celebrate and remember with the holiday of Christmas – the Incarnation.

Creator with created.

Cause with caused.

Supernature with nature.

An-historical with history.

Saviour with saved.

King with slaves.

Holy with lowly.

Strength with weakness.

Honour with scandal.

Glory with shame.

Joy with sorrow.

Life with death.

Man with man.

Word with flesh.

Omniscience with nappies.

Ancient of Days in a cradle.

creation & redemption

Genesis & Exodus | Creation & Redemption.

Gospel of Jesus | New Genesis & New Exodus >>> New Creation & New Redemption.

praying with jesus

Kim Fabricus recently offered twelve ripostes for ‘militant atheists’, one of which was about prayer.

—Prayer plainly doesn’t work.
—Thank God!1

On a spectrum of immature to mature, understandings of Christian prayer will range from the anthropocentric and mechanistic2 notion that prayer is about us invoking God to do something we want for our world, to the more theocentric and relational conviction that prayer is about God involving us in what God wants to do for God’s world.

On this note, I wanted to post an example of this I heard last night in the last Romans lecture at Carey Baptist.

There are three agents ‘groaning’ in Romans 8:18-27; a) creation groaning as with birth pangs, b) the church groaning awaiting redemption, and c) the Spirit groaning in intercession for us and the world.

The world is not as it should be (creation groaning).  God grieves that this is so (the Spirit groaning), and moves us to grief (church groaning) and action.

This parallels a scene from the Gospels.

Jesus’ groaning prayer in the Garden, overcome with grief.  The triune God involved in groaning prayer – the Son praying to the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Jesus’ words ‘not my will but Thy will’ reflects that his prayer is about the divine will for the world and Jesus’ human obedience to it.

And Jesus also had invited his disciples to ‘watch and pray’ with him.  As George Wieland said last night, “To pray is to keep Jesus company as he agonises in the garden.”

  1. Garth Brooks had a similar insight: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” []
  2. not to mention idolatrous and pagan – I even hear pantheist types talk about putting thoughts ‘out there’ to the universe []

small verse – big theology

Matthew 1:1 – “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”

A short verse.  The 16 words above (TNIV) translate only 8 Greek terms.1  It not only summarises the following genealogy (1:1-17), but hints at key themes of the whole gospel.

We are being prepared for much more than merely the family history of Jesus.  From verse one, the original hearers/readers of this gospel understood that this story was about Jesus, who is the ‘son of David’, the anointed long-awaited Davidic king, and a ‘son of Abraham’ par excellence, fulfilling (and thus redefining) what it meant to be a member of the people of God.2  This is a prelude to a genealogy which hints that genealogical ties to Abraham have become irrelevant.3

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks like Christology, Ecclesiology and Soteriology (and probably more than a dash of narrative theology) in one very small verse.

  1. Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβρααμ. []
  2. cf. 3:9 – “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” []
  3. Of course, I hasten to add, not ‘irrelevant’ in the sense that nothing before Jesus at all matters.  The sharp discontinuity of the new does not do away with all continuity with the old. []